How Ads That Get It Wrong Reinforce Why Diversity Is Right

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“If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi." Bernice King, daughter of MLK Jr., put it best in the above tweet, capturing in fewer than 140 characters the insensitive ad Pepsi released – and quickly retracted.

At the Jopwell office, we spent a lot of time last week talking about how tone-deaf campaigns like this one speak to a bigger problem facing today’s workplace. Watercooler conversations and the news cycle have already started to move on to new scandals, headlines, and viral videos. Yet the underlying problem that allowed this campaign to make its way through who-knows-how-many rounds of approvals remains: Until the workforce is truly representative of people with different backgrounds, identities, and perspectives, companies will continue running a higher risk of bringing to market products, messages, and campaigns that completely miss the mark.

We’ve seen it happen again and again. An insensitive ad or message gets approved, created and shared with the world. People respond with outrage, before a carefully crafted and apologetic statement is released.

So will we all respond in surprise when the next culturally insensitive campaign that trivializes a minority experience pops up? And what about when Kendall Jenner’s celebrity doesn’t help bring the issue and conversation to the forefront? These are important questions that require attention.

As the cofounders of Jopwell, a career advancement platform for Black, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American students and professionals, we spend our days talking to companies about the value of diversity and the actions they can take to create more representative teams. We see a diverse workforce as an imperative, not just a good thing to do. And the data supports this idea.

To start, companies in the top-quartile for workforce diversity are 35 percent more likely to financially out-perform their less diverse counterparts, according to McKinsey’s “Diversity Matters.” The 2015 report further states that for every 10 percent increase in the ethnic diversity of a company’s senior-executive team, earnings rise by nearly 1 percent.

Watching the recent Pepsi campaign reminded us of the many reasons representation matters. While a high-profile example of what happens when people of color are not represented or empowered to use their voices in the workplace, more subtle examples of this bias happen every day. Someone's natural hair is called unprofessional by a supervisor. A manager refers to a person of color as "well-spoken" or “articulate” with surprise in their voice. A woman of color walks into a meeting with only senior white male executives sitting at the table. We regularly hear about these experiences from our community. They are far too common and stem from the same problem that leads to the creation of insensitive, viral ads.

So when the viral campaign and subsequent outrage subsides, it is important to continue to work toward building a workplace that includes and represents as many people and experiences as possible. The first step is to internally reflect and audit the current state of diversity within an organization. This begins with taking a hard look at the backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives that are represented in the room. Because without a diverse workforce, the ideas generated by leading companies and organizations will not truly represent the diverse world we live in -- and that’s a missed opportunity.

Image from Twitter

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